Model Mandarin: September 2015

Model mandarinBEAR IN MIND Learn by saying things you shouldn’t

As you know, Mandarin is a tonal language with many homonyms. As a result, sometimes people will use the wrong tones and end up saying something unintended. Sometimes these unintended utterances can be quite embarrassing, but also very funny.

Here are some common mistakes you should avoid:

Wǒ zài xiě lùnwén, zhǔnbèi dàbiàn.
我 在 写 论文, 准备 大便。

You’re trying to say:
I am writing the paper and preparing to defend (dábiàn, 答辩) my thesis.

What you actually said:
I am preparing for shit (dàbiàn, 大便).

Duìbùqǐ, wǒ wán le.
对不起,我 完 了。

You’re trying to say:
Sorry, I am late (wǎn le, 晚了).

What you actually said:
Sorry, I am finished (wán le, 完了).

Wǒ kěyǐ wěn nǐ mā?
我 可以 吻 你妈?

You’re trying to say:
Can I ask (wèn, 问) you (rhetorical)?

What you actually said:
I can kiss (wěn, 吻) your mother (, 妈).



TALKING POINTS A supplement for grammar practice

A supplement for grammar practice Cái (才) and jiù (就) are confusing for many Chinese learners. So let’s clear out the confusion and learn to use them the correct way.

Time Point + 才 (cái) / 就 (jiù)

When the speaker thinks the action happens early, use jiù (就).

Tā zǎoshang wǔdiǎn jiù qǐchuáng le.
他 早上 五点 就 起床 了。
He was already up at five in the morning.

When the speaker thinks the action happens late, use cái (才).

Tā wǎnshang shídiǎn cái xiàbān.
他 晚上 十点 才 下班。
He did not get off work until 10 in the evening

才(cái) / 就(jiù) + Time Point (The order is changed, thus the meaning will be the opposite.)

When the speaker thinks the action happens late, use就 (jiù).

Zuówǎn jiābān huídào jiā jiù shíyīdiǎn le.
昨晚 加班,回到 家 就 十一点 了。
Last night I worked overtime. When I returned home, it was already 11 p.m.

When the speaker thinks the action happens early, use cái (才).

Jīntiān méi dǔchē, dào gōngsī cái qīdiǎn.
今天 没 堵车,到 公司 才 七点。
There was no traffic jam today. It was only 7 when I arrived at the company.

CARTOON CHARACTERS Mnemonic devices that work

The radical we are going to talk about this month is , 禾 , which is the radical for ‘grain.’ It looks like a tree (木) with the top bent over to represent the head of a ripened grain. When you see 禾 in a Chinese character, you will guess the meaning will be related to grain or plants.

qiū (秋) – autumn, n.
Tip: Autumn is the harvest season. The grain, 禾 , ripens under the fiery heat (火) of the sun. September 27 is an important day in China: zhōngqiūjié (中秋节), Mid-autumn Festival.

zhòng (种) – plant, v.
Tip: You may already know the right part zhōng, 中 is for China, 中国. China is an agricultural country. And 中 also indicates the pronunciation of this character.

Hear this mini audio lesson online at

CANTONESE CORNER Guangdong conversation starters 

gu1 hon4 (孤寒) – This word is used to describe someone who is stingy and does not want to spend money. When you gossip with friends about people around you, you can use this word to describe someone with this personality. If your close friend does not want to invite you for dinner, you also can say this word jokingly. (Speak gu in a middle even tone. For hon you should drop low at the end.)

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